Big Shoes to Fill

Cris Wilson

Fresno State lost of its best players and team leaders when junior safety Phillip Thomas went down with a broken leg at practice on Wednesday. Today, the team leaves for San Francisco with Cris Wilson as its new starting strong safety. BB.C takes a closer look at Wilson as the team prepares for its matchup with Cal at Candlestick Park…

Who's Cris Wilson?

Many Bulldog fans are asking that question this morning.

With junior starting free safety Phillip Thomas out with a broken leg, Wilson will not only make his first career start on Saturday versus Cal, it will be the first time in his Fresno State career he will dress and take the field.

He walked on at Fresno State in the spring of 2009 out of Stockton St. Mary's High School. He played running back and defensive back for the Rams in the fall of 2007 rushing for nearly 700 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The 2007 St. Mary's team had three current Bulldogs, Wilson, junior receiver Gerome Surrell, and redshirt freshman receiver Josh Harper (note: current Bulldog quarterback Marcus McDade is also out of St. Mary's but did not play varsity in fall of 2007). Wilson was lightly recruited out of high school and opted to walk-on at Fresno State.

He didn't participate in training camp in 2008. In spring 2009, he played cornerback. He received third team reps behind starters A.J. Jefferson and Desia Dunn, and backups Damien Owens, Isaiah Green, and L.J. Jones. Wilson received third team reps mainly due to Jermaine Thomas rehabbing from a hip injury, and incoming freshman J.B. Dock and Erik Brown would not report until the fall.

Wilson redshirted in 2009 playing behind eight scholarship cornerbacks. Fresno State lost seniors Moses Harris and Marvin Haynes at safety after the 2009 season creating a lack of depth in spring 2010. Wilson moved to safety in the spring and received quality reps. He played behind starters Zak Hill and Lorne Bell and backup Phillip Thomas. Wilson shared second and third team reps with Terrance Dennis and Justin Webber.

Freshmen Edward Dillihunt and Derron Smith arrived in August 2010, which moved Wilson down the depth chart. Zak Hill tore his ACL in fall camp, which moved Smith and Webber into the backup roles last season. Wilson played scout team. As a scout team member in 2010, he did not see any action during the season.

Wilson has improved steadily over his career, and it showed in spring 2011. Two moves opened the door for him to solidify his role on the depth chart.

The coaches moved Edward Dillihunt to weak side linebacker, and Justin Webber transferred to Cal Poly. And with Zak Hill still rehabbing from his ACL injury, Wilson received significant reps with the first and second team defense.

He continued with a strong offseason impressing teammates with his work ethic and ability. Even some speculated Wilson could unseat Smith as a starter. Entering camp, Wilson was the No. 2 behind Thomas with Hill behind Smith. As camp progressed, Wilson played well, kept improving, but didn't beat out Smith, who had a stellar camp.

"Wilson's coming along great," Fresno State head coach said Thursday. "He's gotten all the second team reps through camp at that position."

In the Fresno State defense, the strong and free safeties are practically interchangeable. Smith and Thomas had great chemistry. Regardless of what the offense showed, and if they couldn't shift, Smith and Thomas could do the other's assignment. Now, Wilson will have to step and take over for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Thomas, who is arguably the Bulldogs top pro prospect.

Big shoes to fill for the sub 5-foot-10, 180-pound Wilson.

Should Fresno State fans be worried?


Wilson is athletic, fast, and he can cover. He's not the fierce hitter or game-changing playmaker Thomas is, but he is a capable.

Should Fresno State fans expect a drop off in production?


Some compare losing Thomas to losing starting quarterback Derek Carr on offense. While Thomas is more experienced and more seasoned than Carr is, but losing him doesn't affect the game plan. If the offense loses Carr, the game plan changes. The defense is not changing anything on Saturday.

Wilson will be asked to do everything Thomas did. It's a tall task, but Wilson has no excuse. He knows the game plan. He knows his assignments.

The coaches plan to use Hill and Dennis as well on Saturday. Hill, while not 100%, is an experienced senior with starting experience. He knows the schemes very well. Dennis is in his fourth year. However, Wilson is the next best on the depth chart.

"He's the guy we're calling on to pick up the flag and move forward," said Hill.

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